The first thing to know when buying cycling shoes is the type of pedals you have on your bike. They usually will be one of two different styles:
With this model, the pedals have a harness built into the front of the pedal called a toe clip. Its purpose is to prevent the foot from slipping off of the pedal surface. This is a good choice for casual riders that ride short distances. One of the drawbacks of using toe clips is that they can cut off the circulation to your feet if you cinch the straps up too tight. Of course, you also have to reach down and loosen them before you can get your foot out.
Serious cyclists have adopted the clip-less system of pedals and shoes over the clip style for a couple of reasons. One, this system provides a better transfer of power from the legs to the pedals. Two, they are easier to get the foot off of the pedal – especially when faced with an emergency situation. The major disadvantage though is they are more costly in the beginning.
With the clip-less system, there are generally two types of shoes: walkable and road. Walkable shoes have cleats recessed in the bottom of the shoe sole thus making walking around easier when not on the bike. This is a good choice if you like to ride somewhere, get off the bike and walk around, eat in a restaurant, shop, etc. Yet you get a good transfer of power to the bike when riding.
Many of the clip-less style pedal are double-sided so you don’t have to look down to clip in. And they also have a good base of support so you can ride while wearing street shoes if the situation warrants it.
Road shoes on the other hand, have thin and light soles with cleats protruding from the bottom of the shoe, thus not making them conducive (or comfortable) to walk around in, however, some companies also make cleat covers that do allow you to do some walking while wearing by covering the cleats to not only to protect them, but to improve traction while wearing.
Road pedals differ from walkable types in that the pedals usually only lock onto the shoes on one side. Some pedals require making sure the correct side of the pedal is up to lock into while other pedals position themselves so the correct surface is always up.
Not only do road pedals provide a better transfer of power, but they are also easier to disconnect from the shoe making it easier to free your feet in an emergency. With little practice, you can learn how to almost instinctively click on and click off.
Choose the style of pedal and shoe that best supports your style of riding. A good bike shop can help you select what is right for you and get both you and your bike set up for maximum enjoyment.